Tips & Tricks for Transitioning to 2 Under 2 (Part 1): BEFORE Baby Arrives
I'm FINALLY getting back to the blog after a LONG hiatus with 2 months of sickness, major toddler sleep regressions, continued quarantine-ing, and the highs and lows of pregnancy, among other things. Now the new challenges arrive with transitioning to 2 under 2 with extreme sleep deprivation... Lucky for you, I've reached out to my best and most experienced mama friends early for advice and started taking notes before little one arrived so I wouldn't have to solely rely on this zombie brain of mine! I am no expert in this area, but I am happy to pass on lessons learned from others as well as myself as we continue to transition to 2 under 2. So keep reading to learn some of the tips and tricks for tackling 2 under 2!
Word of encouragement: I'm sure you've heard this before, but even though the beginning is a special sort of challenge with 2 under 2, as they both get older, it actually gets so much easier as they will end up being the best of friends and playmates, and soon you'll get some free time again! It will come, I promise! Until then, embrace the circus!
LIKE TO KNOW IT:
This white dress came from Altar'd State and the blue shawl from Von Maur. The adorable Rufflebutts toddler dress is from Nordstrom. Check out this beautiful but super inexpensive white duvet that we used for our newborn lifestyle session photos! It makes a clean and simple backdrop for lifestyle photos! Lamps and home decor are from HomeGoods.
BEFORE Little One Arrives:
1. ADVICE: Start early by asking for advice from others who have lived this experience before and gotten through (mostly) unscathed. I'm all about learning from others' wisdom and experience so start asking questions and be a sponge! Ask what lessons they have learned and what they would do differently so that you can avoid making similar mistakes and instead can be equipped with new ideas and solutions for problems before they arise. Take the time to read books, listen to podcasts, and ask friends for any and all advice before your newest addition arrives!
2. DECORATE NURSERY: Get the nursery decorated and do all that you can before baby arrives, because let me tell you, after baby arrives, getting out of the house with 2 (especially during a pandemic) is much harder than one may think! Here is a sneak peek of our nursery for baby boy. I'll be posting a tutorial on how to create our accent wall soon, so stay tuned!
3. TODDLER PROOF HOUSE: Baby/Toddler proof the house before baby arrives. Prior to baby, I could keep my eyes on my toddler at all times since there was only 1 child to watch, so I didn't feel as much of a need to baby proof everything. But once baby was here, there were times when I needed to leave my toddler for a minute and couldn't trust that she would not get into anything and everything she wasn't supposed to. We used these Safety 1st Magnetic Cabinet Locks on all the cabinets within my toddler's reach to avoid any catastrophes and used these Safety Door Knob Covers to keep her from entering rooms she wasn't supposed to be in.
4. PREP TODDLER: Start prepping your toddler about their new baby brother or sister fairly early on. I told our daughter all about baby brother while he was growing in my tummy and let her feel him kick, and encouraged her to nurture him early on. She loved giving him hugs and kisses. Talk about their new baby sister/brother and how exciting it is that they will become a big sister or big brother! Help them to take ownership early on and what a big role it is to be a big sibling. Use the same phrases like, "You will be such a good big sister/brother" "You will be such a good protector of your baby sister/brother". Use "sister/brother" verbiage whenever possible instead of just "baby" to grow a bond early on.
5. BABY DOLL: Give them a baby doll early on as their own baby such as this baby doll that even comes with a car seat and bottles. My toddler is obsessed with snapping in these straps so another bonus- they can learn a new skill too! Tell them all the ways they can help to be a big sister/brother when baby arrives. Use the baby doll and help prepare them by showing them how to hold baby, rock baby, change baby's diaper, feed baby, etc. and find ways that they can help in the process too. When baby does arrive, let them help and be involved as much has possible.
6. BIG SIBLING BOOKS: We bought a few "Big Sister" books for Everley and included her name and baby brother's name as we read and pointed out activities she will be doing to help with baby when he arrived. These are some of my favorite books: I'm a Big Sister, I'm a Big Brother, You're the Biggest, I'm a Big Sister, The New Baby, and I'm a Big Brother.
7. SURPRISE BOX: Create a box of "surprises" for your toddler that is from the baby. You don't have to spend much to do this, just be creative! This may look a little excessive below with all the gifts, but I didn't spend over $100 with everything. Some people just pick out one special gift from their baby sibling, and that's fine too!
I let her pick out a new "surprise from baby brother" every week (and following a time when she has really good behavior to offer even more positive reinforcement), and she gets so excited to open the gift. I found a lot of little cheap thrills at the dollar store. I also found some old toys and treasures my mom saved for me from when I was little (dolls and this adorable vintage Minnie 'n Me set) that have been major hits with my little one.
Find ways to include learning activities or skills for them to practice while nursing. One example of this - I used plastic cups from dying Easter eggs, then bought $1 package of poms as well as plastic utensils from the dollar store. My toddler practices sorting the colored poms into the colored cups with the utensils and learns about colors while practicing fine motor skills.
I also found a ton of cute inexpensive items at TJ Maxx on clearance and consignment shops and sales. Look up consignment sales in your area and you'll find toys at a fraction of the cost. Some of her favorite "surprises" have been the Build-A-Garden set, Play-doh Set, Do-A-Dot Art Markers & Coloring Books, Leap Frog 100 Words Book, Mickey Mouse & Minnie Mouse, Fubbles Bubble Camera, Mickey Mouse Basic Skills Board, Frozen coloring books, Baby Doll Stroller, and sorting color and cup game.
Also find some quieter gifts that can help keep her occupied while your nursing such as books, wooden puzzles, coloring books, sticker books, Baby Shark Mess-Free Magic Ink Coloring Set, and the the below Build-A-Garden set, etc.
Another great quieter activity is this Mess Free Water Doodle Mat. We saved this for her 2nd birthday.
8. CREATE EXCITEMENT: Get your toddler excited bout being a big sibling by telling them about all the things they can do that the baby can't. Example, Baby can only drink milk but you can drink different beverages and eat different foods like <insert their favorite foods>. Make sure your tone of voice reflects the excitement when talking about the new "big kid" things they can do.
9. DETERMINE BIRTH PLAN: Way before baby is due, make sure you have a birth plan and figure out the details of who will be taking care of your toddler (and pets if needed). Create a guide to give to whoever will be watching your toddler so they know what to expect for the day and night including naptimes, bedtimes, eating, emergency contacts, etc. and give them the guide early so they have time to review it before crunch time! When you go into labor, make sure to tell the caretaker not to tell your toddler that the baby is born, so that you can announce it when you are ready and when you get home. That way your toddler isn't thinking about it the whole time or think that she's missing out while Mom and Dad are gone with the baby.
10. TRIAL RUN: If possible, give your toddler a practice run of staying with whoever will take care of them while you're in the hospital. This works great if grandparents are watching the toddler. Seize the opportunity as a much-needed date night for you and your spouse or even better, turn it into a Baby Moon with a couples' getaway for a few nights!
Since we don't have family nearby, we didn't have this opportunity, but we made sure to develop a plan for our caretakers ahead of time. We made sure our toddler was extremely comfortable with my friend who stayed with her while we were gone and we found ways to make it a fun experience while we were away. I also had my husband leave the hospital in the evening to put my daughter down for bedtime and she FaceTimed with me before going to sleep.
Side note, if you have a fur baby, this is a great time for your spouse to bring home a baby blanket that smells like the baby that your pet can sleep with and get used to the new smells of baby!
11. GIFT EXCHANGE: Have your toddler pick out a stuffed animal (such as this Polar Bear Jellycat) for the baby to give when he/she arrives home from the hospital. It will be a special keepsake for the new baby too since it came from big sister/brother.
12. DAY DATES & DATE NIGHTS: Enjoy a few last date nights with your spouse as well as day dates with your family of 3 before the new addition arrives and take lots of pictures. These moments and memories can be so bittersweet as it will be the last time that you are a family of 3, but also very exciting to be a family of 4 (or whatever the new number may be!). Expect a roller coaster of emotions and know that is normal. I remember sobbing on the way to the hospital, sad to leave my daughter overnight for the first time ever and anxious about how our new family would look. It is true though, your heart really does expand the moment the new baby is in your arms, but in the meantime, savor the last moments before baby is here! I try to remind myself daily to enjoy the present moment and stage the kids are currently in while knowing how quickly the time flies and soon they will be onto the next stage and age.
AFTER Little One Arrives:
1. INTRODUCTION: When baby arrives, if it's just you and your spouse, have your spouse get your toddler and get her excited about meeting her baby brother/sister. If you have a 3rd person, have that person stay with the new baby while you and your spouse go and see your toddler. Spend a few minutes with just your toddler first and ask about their time, read a book, and love on them for a few last moments before they meet the newest addition.
Then in a very excited voice, ask your toddler if they are ready to meet their baby brother/sister?! We had our toddler come outside to meet the new baby. Have a gift your toddler can give to the baby (such as this Polar Bear Jellycat) and have a gift for the toddler from the new baby (such as another stuffed animal or something more creative) so she instantly feels connected. (Wise words from a few friends!) She obviously won't know that the baby didn't actually pick it out and she's at an age where she attaches the gift giver with the gift. We had baby brother give our toddler this Bunny Jellycat since I'm obsessed with Jellycats (and so is my toddler) as well as a Baby Doll Stroller which she LOVED. When we ask her who the bunny and stroller are from, she makes sure to tell us, "Baby Jack!"
Here is a pic of their first meeting and Evi giving the polar bear to her baby brother. We thought it was best to have them meet outside so she didn't feel like he was intruding on her space the first time they met. I'm not expert though, just our approach.
We also wanted to make sure that our toddler felt like it was the baby joining us and our family, and not the other way around, as the last thing you want to do is make the toddler feel like they are being replaced. Lastly make sure baby is well fed and happy before introducing the toddler to the baby so the baby isn't crying on their first meeting!
2. EXPECT TO BE EXHAUSTED: First of all, if you plan to be or are already in the trenches with 2 under 2, we are in the trenches with you! Know it's 100% normal to be completely and utterly exhausted. I am writing this as baby is 7 weeks, and we've only had one 4-hour stretch of sleep in the last 3 weeks. Baby has a bad case of GERD, lately hasn't been sleeping more than 1.5-2 hours at a time, requires mama to be on a MSPI diet (more on that in another post), and only naps in 30-40 minute stretches. This mama is TIRED! Many days (and late nights) I just have to tell myself, "Keep on going!" I remind myself daily that this is only a phase and soon it will be over, so try to enjoy and embrace each day, even as much of a circus as it may be as we will never be at this exact moment again, and before we know it, they will be off to college.
Sometimes I have to take a step back and just look at their tiny little faces, take in their sweet little snuggles as I hold them, and then think about the faces of my friends' older kids and tell myself, soon my kids will be there, and I'll long for this baby stage again! I also say a continued prayer to help me live in the present and soak in all the moments and joys that this stage brings.
3. GRACE, GRACE, & MORE GRACE: Take time to fully wrap you head around and embrace the mindset that extra grace will be needed, for yourself, for your spouse, and for your kids. There will be days you feel like SuperMom with all you got done in a day and accomplished... and then there are days when mere survival was the only thing accomplished. It's ok and perfectly normal!
4. NOT SO PRETTY: Keep in mind, the first few weeks probably won't look so pretty, and even sometimes downright ugly with toddler tantrums and figuring out new routines with sleep deprivation and little time to shower regularly. Few moms talk about it, but postpartum is rough, and especially tough with a toddler and newborn. Figuring out new routines and a new rhythm takes time so allow extra grace and patience. My toddler started throwing tantrums right around the time baby was here, so expect it and know it's normal so take extra deep breaths and know, this too shall pass! And I promise, it does get easier and better! Hang in there!
5. MAKE TIME FOR YOU: I know it is SO HARD to even find 5 free minutes in the day, but remember, happy mom = happy kids, so do what you can to start with even 5-20 min to yourself. Sit and drink that cup of coffee or tea, take a bath or nice long shower, listen to music, sit outside for a few peaceful quiet moments, or go for a short walk. Have a friend or your spouse watch the kids for an hour and run a solo errand. Do what brings you some joy and relaxation! I remember early on, I asked my husband for 60 seconds of uninterrupted me time, and I would go downstairs and eat some dark chocolate on the sofa and just veg out for that delightful minute. It was small, but I needed it to take on the rest of the night or day. Soon it grew to 5 minutes and now I try to take 15-20 if possible.
6. LET IT GO. Let go of many of the expectations you have early on and learn to just embrace what each day brings! This can be so hard for the go-getter / over achiever / planner types out there, but the more you realize how little is actually in your control, the happier you will be. Then when things don't go as planned, you are much more able to be flexible and go with the flow than getting upset.
7. SAME SCHEDULE: Try to get the kiddos on the same schedule for at least 1 nap a day. Getting the baby and toddler down to sleep in the afternoon for their nap has made a huge difference so that I can have even 15 min of me time while still getting dinner ready or doing laundry, or cleaning up from lunch. If I'm super lucky and baby takes a long nap, I can even lay down for a nap (or at least a little rest period) while they both are napping.
8. SUPPORT SYSTEM: Have a support system and don't be afraid to ask for help! Whether it's a meal train, grandparents helping, friends coming over for support, or another mom friend picking up your toddler for a play date or taking them to the park for an hour so you can sleep, make sure to let people help you! When grandparents are visiting, make a list of things that they can help with such as help feed the toddler, help make meals, help do laundry, help with nap time, grocery shop, etc. After all, it really does take a village!
9. WEAR BABY: Wear baby with a baby carrier to be hands free so you can still play with your toddler, prepare dinner, or do laundry! Find a baby carrier you love such as this Tula Explore baby carrier or a wearable wrap similar to the Solly Baby Wrap for getting started.
Bonus, I have a smaller baby wrap (it's actually a newborn photography wrap) that my daughter likes to wear with her baby dolls so she can be like mommy. Reasons I love the Tula Explore baby carrier:
How easy it is to put on and take off as well.
I didn't need to buy a newborn insert for it.
You can wear it 3 ways (facing in, forward facing out, and back carry).
It works from infant to toddlerhood.
When baby arrived from the hospital, he was right at 7lbs so even though the TULA weight range is from 7-45lbs, he was a little peanut so I used a Solly baby wrap similar to this wearable wrap for the first few weeks until he grew a little more to fit comfortably in the TULA.
10. TODDLER TALK: Toddler's hear so often all the things you have to do for baby (Mama has to feed baby brother now, Mama needs to change baby brother's diaper, Mama needs to put baby brother down for nap), so also let them hear when you are spending focused time on them. For example, even though the baby won't understand this, it will make the toddler feel special when you look at the baby and say, "Mama needs to get lunch ready for your big sister, Mama needs to help big sis with going potty, Mama needs to play with big sister now", etc.
11. INVOLVE THEM: When baby does arrive, let your toddler help and be involved as much as possible. My daughter gets so excited to help change the baby's diaper, she will literally stop whatever she is doing and race to me to help get the supplies ready, open and close his diaper tabs, and throw the diaper away. I also have her help diaper her doll or stuffed animal next to me which she loves to do too.
12. NAP/NURSING ACTIVITIES: Have a special box of toys your toddler gets to play with only when you're nursing or when you're putting baby down for a nap. Then they will still feel special and excited even when you have to focus your time and attention on the new baby. Make sure the activities can't cause any harm to the toddler or to your house (such as choking hazards or markers or even colors if your toddler is anything like mine and the moment you leave the room, the kitchen has been crayola'd...)
13. PLAN FOR EXTRA TIME: Just know that getting out the door takes not 2x, but 10x longer with 2 under 2. It is inevitable that by the time you are ready to load up the car, one or both will need a diaper change or the toddler will throw a tantrum because she can't eat crayons... or whatever reason. Just plan on getting everything ready long before you plan to leave with the car packed, then right before you plan to leave, try to nurse/feed the newborn so hopefully they can take a nap in the car, and feeding will be one less thing you have to worry about right away.
14. EMBRACE "CLUNKY": My friend told me that my new word for 2 under 2 would be "clunky" and she was right! Getting out the door feels extra clunky with 2 kiddos and diaper bags, snacks, milk/water, toys, and a larger double stroller, etc. Embrace it and know this stage is only temporary and soon they will be in kindergarten (and then college - yikes!) not needing all your help to get from point A to point B.
15. EXPECT MELTDOWNS: Bringing home a new baby rocks everyone's world and routines and requires sacrifices from all, but this is especially true for your toddler. Your toddler went from getting you 100% of the time to having to share you more than 50%. They likely will not be able to understand, identify, or express their emotions, so many times this restults in meltdowns and toddler tantrums. Expect them and help them by staying calm and figuring out what is going on in their heart and mind. Many times they are just acting out as they are craving more attention from you but don't know how to express this. Help them to recognize and identify the emotion and feeling they have instead of just focusing on the action or behavior. Give them extra love, grace, and patience. Praise them and offer lots of positive reinforcement for anytime they do the right thing and exhibit positive behavior, especially when it comes to loving on their new baby. Whenever Evi gives the baby kisses or hugs, we praise her and tell her what a great job she is doing by loving and protecting her baby brother.
16. "MOMMY & ME" / "DADDY & ME" TIME: Provide extra care, love, and nurturing for your toddler and make sure to spend quality time with just you and the toddler too. This can be done during baby's nap time or when others are holding the newborn. Make this time special by saying something like, "Now it's time for "Mommy and Me" time! What would you like to do?!" Make sure your tone of voice reflects how exciting this time is!
17. MULTI-TASKING MAMA: Moms really needed to be made with another arm or two, but since we weren't, you will learn how to juggle and multi-task like never before. There are many dinners where I'm feeding my toddler while simultaneously nursing my baby. Other days I'm nursing my baby while making dinner while keeping my toddler distracted by asking her to show me new skills, "Can you show Mama how you feed your baby doll? Can you make Mama a strawberry ice ream cone with sprinkles from your Ice Cream Cart?" etc. Eventually this usually turns into some independent play time when I'm lucky. You will be amazed at the new skills you will learn while managing multiple kiddos and keeping a home together. Many days the home will be messy and laundry won't get done, and that's A-OK. "Messes are expected as memories are being made." That will be your motto for many years...embrace it now.
18. EMBRACE DUPLICATES & TRIPLICATES: We have 3 floors in our house so when it comes to a baby, toddler, and fur baby, I wanted "easy and simple" as I didn't want to have to carry a Play Mat or an Exersaucer/Activity Center from floor to floor, so I set up a Play Mat and an Exersaucer/Activity Center (for when baby is bigger) on each floor of the house where I spent a lot of time.
We have the playroom in the basement, so that was imperative to have one there. I also spend a lot of time in the living room play area and kitchen, so also wanted one there. I also wanted one on the top floor for when we were in their rooms or if I needed to take a shower and needed them contained in one spot in the bathroom. I ended up borrowing 2 from friends and bought the Skip Hop Baby Activity Center below for the other floor. My toddler still loves playing with this on occasion as I will find her climbing into it to play. I also did this with Baby Play Mats so I could lay the baby down in a clean, safe area near me while I played with my toddler.
19. MULTIPLE DIAPER CHANGING STATIONS: Similar to the reason above, I didn't want to have to run upstairs and haul the kids and fur baby with me when needing to change a diaper. I had 3 different quick access areas for changing diapers - one on each floor. This little Baby Diaper Caddy is great for organizing baby diaper supplies, and we have one for each floor of the house!
20. NURSING TOPS: My new wardrobe consists mainly of comfy clothes, nursing tops, and nursing dresses. Here are a few of my favorite nursing tops by Ekouaer and Smallshow! I have found my go to's are whatever is easiest to nurse in. Many days this may just be my robe! Finding a cute and comfy robe will make you feel like a pretty mama, even if you only got 3 hours of sleep and never get out of your PJs for the day!
Thanks for reading! For more advice, check out "Tips & Tricks for Transitioning to 2 Under 2 (Part 2): AFTER Baby Arrives" as well as "Essential Items for 2 Under 2".